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Nightlife: All Night Long

Posh clubs offer sophisticated entertainment alternatives to traditional shows and lounge acts
Bruce Schoenfeld
From the Print Edition:
Vegas, Mar/Apr 2006

(continued from page 2)

Wynn Las Vegas, the latest mega-hotel to open, in 2005, turned to Drai for even more Hollywood glitter. Born in Morocco and raised in Paris, Drai made his name in Los Angeles as a movie producer and, later, as a restaurant owner. He seems made for the Las Vegas scene. The sophisticated Drai carries off a look that includes an Italian sport coat and alligator-skin boots. He seems far too elegant to have struck it rich making the Weekend at Bernie's films, which is exactly what he did.

Drai was about to become a father in the early 1990s when he decided to change direction. He left the movie business and opened Drai's, a restaurant on La Cienega that replaced Le Dome as the epicenter of the Hollywood power lunch. In Las Vegas, he set up shop in 1997 at the Barbary Coast-a downscale hotel that advertises $3.95 breakfasts on its marquee-and promptly made his new eponymous restaurant-cum-nightclub the place to be seen during the small hours. When Wynn persuaded him to open Tryst in his new hotel, Drai brought his customer base with him. "I said to Steve, 'I will make you the sexiest club ever made,'" Drai says.

Without question, it is one of the most dramatic. A 90-foot waterfall is the backdrop for an indoor/outdoor floor, packed on a nightly basis with perhaps more celebrities per square foot than anywhere else. At least, everyone there looks like a celebrity. "If you're not elegant, I don't let you in," says Drai. "But if you're elegant, I don't care what you're wearing." At only 8,000 square feet, Tryst is a fraction of the size of Pure, TAO and many of the rest of the Las Vegas clubs, yet it still does an extraordinary amount of business. "What I realize," says Drai, "is that a lot of people in America have a lot of money."

TAO Asian Bistro at The Venetian is more than five times the size of Tryst. It takes a New York restaurant and blows it up to Las Vegas proportions. "You can have a complete evening and never leave the nightclub," says co-owner Wolf, as he strides past Mike Tyson eating dim sum at a corner table. "Have dinner, have a drink, go dancing-and if you can't close the deal with the girl you met, you can have a drink in the lounge." At TAO, levels lead to other levels and rooms to other rooms, each darker, louder and smokier than the last. VIPs ensconce themselves in skyboxes, surveying the teeming masses below. The music shifts from stunningly loud to even louder. "There'll be women dancing in bathtubs here," Wolf says, shouting to be heard over the din. "You'll see them later."

Only a few months ago, TAO was the most intriguing club in town. Then, on New Year's Eve, Drai opened Tryst and Andrew Sasson, whose Light was the first to offer the ultra-profitable bottle service at VIP tables (and currently Rémy Martin Louis XIII for $14,500), debuted Jet at The Mirage.

Those will be the novelties temporarily, but bigger, fancier, slicker and even more expensive competition is coming. Frey's BiKiNiS at the Rio, where women cavort in giant cocktail glasses, is rebranding. Rande Gerber, of Whiskey Bar fame, has a new outpost, called Cherry, at the Red Rock Station casino that is scheduled to open in April on the northwest side. And inside the second Palms tower, set to open early this summer, the Playboy Club, which recently was granted a special license to offer lounging and gaming together for the first time in Las Vegas, will be unveiled. "I asked, 'Who wrote the rules?'" says de Graff. "Well, we rewrote the rules."

The Playboy Club will be connected by an outdoor escalator to Moon, one floor above. The $50 cover charge, which will provide access to both clubs, will be double everywhere else on the Strip, de Graff announces with pride. "Vegas has just become so much more sophisticated across the board," he says. "We believe there's a market for this."

Through it all, Frey just keeps smiling. E! Network recently named Pure the best club in North America, and local accolades could fill an entire press kit. If someone is coming to Las Vegas for a long weekend in search of nightlife, Frey knows he'll get them at least part of one night. "We hit the market just right," he says.

Paradoxically, clubs seem to have a longer lifespan in Las Vegas than in New York or even London, where hot can turn to cool with alacrity. That allows a capital investment that would be foolish in a more fickle climate, which helps to create a striking atmosphere likely to impress each new planeload of tourists for many months to come. "None of this is about me," says Frey. "I just do the leases." Then Frey turns sideways to let a group of striking young women push past-and keeps his body turned for the inevitable gaggle of men who he's sure will follow.

Bruce Schoenfeld is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.

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